Church History

Church History

Our Church History: The War Years
Ed. Note: I am particularly excited to bring you a return to Annie Scott's series on the history of CMUMC. She picks up where she left off, with the 1940s. There was so much going on, we had to break it up into two articles. This month, 1940-45; soon to follow, the rest of the decade.
By Annie Scott

As the 1940s began, Rev. Starke Jett was in his third year at Chestnut Methodist Church. The church was still completing its change in structure after the uniting of the three main Methodist denominations (Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, Methodist Protestant). Though not much can be gleaned from our records on the difficulties of the whole church, we do have a few records from the women. The Women's Society of Christian Service kept wonderful minutes. From the March 1940 monthly meeting they noted their contributions to the building fund, the Methodist Orphanage, Scarritt College and their missionary. The Chestnut women supported Mary Woodward and the Buena Vista School in Havana, Cuba. In April, they agreed to donate 60 Bibles to the boys at Camp Eustis. In May they discussed supporting their delegates to conference in Lynchburg (state) and Capron (district). They included supporting a delegate, Alice Shaw, to the segregated Negro Conference in Petersburg. This was a small glimpse into the segregated church. Also noted was the collection of program materials to be donated to the local black congregation. The ladies had a guest speaker at their July meeting. Mrs. Israel's program was on Jews in America. The Women met Sep. 9, 1940 to become chartered as Women's Society of Christian Service. They met twice that day so the evening circles could also sign up. Chestnut had eight circles with these women as their 1941 circle leaders: 1 - Mrs. C. O. Rowe, 2 - Mrs. J.H. Bell and Mrs. Hardy, 3 - Mrs. Howard Chappel and Mrs. Mott, 4 - Mrs. Gay and Mrs. Llewellyn, 5 - Mrs. Berryman and Miss Emma Murray, 6 - Mrs. H. T. Roane, 7 - Mrs. Amos Walker, 8 - Mrs. Edwin Dickenson.

The ladies' minutes are important because they help paint a picture of the church in action as we entered World War II. We had not yet entered the war when it came time to say goodbye to Reverend Jett. In the final quarterly charge conference, the church leadership noted that it was their tradition to accept ministers for only four years and praised Rev. Jett's service and wished him well in his future appointment. In November 1941, Rev. Alfred Brackette Clarke began his time at Chestnut. Barely a month in, he was probably preparing for evening service when Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec. 7.

Camp Stuart had been abandoned after WWI. The government had built 976 residential units in late 1941 to house civilians working in defense industries. The majority of military passing through would have been stationed at Camp Patrick Henry located north of Oyster Point Road. Newport News was still very busy as the soldiers left from our piers. Of course, the shipyard played a significant role in the war effort. Our church contributed also. The women started sewing for the Red Cross almost immediately. In April 1942, it was noted the importance of making our visitors welcomed to the church, especially the enlisted in uniform. The Upper Room and letters were sent to the 16 young men who had left by June of 1942. A scroll was made and given to church to display the names of those in service. Thirty members enrolled in a first-aid class and the ladies attended a program on Home Defense.

Chestnut did take time to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the church and dedicate the building that had finally been paid off in March 1942. On May 10, Bishop Peele delivered the sermon at the celebration. Even during wartime, the church was still growing. Millie Cooper, President of the Youth/Epworth league reported 198 members. Chestnut supported Deaconess Miss Bulifant's efforts to reach the underprivileged children in the area. The ladies of the church would provide funds for milk to be served during the summer months. Miss Bulifant's was serving approximately 117 children. She was particularly worried about the boys surrounding Trinity Church. She is quoted as saying, "If they are not reached they will doubtless become criminals." Rev. A. B. Clarke continued to lead during this time. He was especially focused on children, youth and Christian education. In his 1943 report to annual conference, he notes that 159 children and 22 adults attended the June Vacation Bible School. The Sunday School has 358 children/youth and 370 adults. The Women's Society had 196 members. There were 1,299 members on the roll. Troop 11 is described as a live and active group of boys under the leadership of Thomas Patchell. On Mother's Day 1945, at the evening service, Tommie Jobe becomes Chestnut's first Eagle Scout. Rev. Clarke had much joy in his ministry but he also had to shepherd those families who sent members to war. Chestnut sent $1 for every member serving to Lake Junaluska's Memorial Chapel. They sent a check for a $130. Of that number, ten names were memorialized on a plaque "Lest We Forget" for those who died: Jesse Garrett Brown, David Harrison Mitchell, Philip Wilhelm Murray Jr., Harry Thadeus Noland, Charles Norman Smith, Herbert Grooms Smith Jr., Austin F. Watkins Jr. At the last quarterly Conference for 1945, the attendees requested a motion to put aside the four-years-only tradition and ask for Rev. Clarke to stay another year. Group voted their approval and it was forwarded to the Pastoral Relations Committee. Rev. Clarke would be assigned to Ginter Park in Richmond. Dr. John Shackford would lead the church in the post-war 1940s and as always through the changes in the church.